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The Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street, Oxford

Oxford Theatres

The Holywell Music Room is situated on Holywell Street, City Centre, Oxford. The Architect who designed and built the building in 1748 was Dr. Thomas Camplin who was Vice Principal of St Edmund Hall. It is thought that the building was probably the brainchild of William Hayes, the then Professor of Music at the University. It was funded by public subscription in 1742. The Building has been in continuous use since 1748, and is the oldest purpose built Concert room in Europe. The Music Room is presently owned and managed by Oxford University Wadham College.

Externally the building is a slate roofed chapel like building, being a brick box with a stone pediment and 3 bays. A later single storey extension was added which contains the entrance. Internally the Music Room is quite plain being an apsidal room with curved steps either side of an open platform at one end. The Concert room is flat floored and behind the performance area is an organ by John Donaldson dating from 1790. The building is Grade II listed.

Dimensions are: - The Concert room being 21 metres long by 10.01 metre wide (65 x 33 feet). The height is 9.1 metres (30 feet), with the stage platform depth of 4.6 metre. The Concert room's capacity is 200 people seated.

It was used as a concert venue from its inception in 1748 up to 1836, but was then used for auctions and exhibitions. There is a record of a lease being taken out on the building in approximately 1845, by the Oxford Architectural Society which was founded in 1838, as they had a growing library of books and documents that needed proper storage. They held the lease for 21 years, but seem to have still been in occupancy after this period. By the 1870's it was used for weekly rehearsals by the Oxford Philharmonic Society but by 1910 Oxford University Music union obtained the lease of the building.

The Music Room was refurbished and restored in 1959/60 since when it has been the venue for many recitals and concerts featuring visiting musicians as well as local groups and student performances.

In the Summer of 1998, the Music Room celebrated its 250th anniversary.

Its current use is as a Concert Room with occasional plays and other entertainments which require no scenery. It is also famous for 'The Oxford Coffee Concerts' which began in 1986 and are considered the most successful chamber music series in the country. They are held nearly every Sunday morning throughout the year.

The above article was written for this site by David Garratt and kindly sent in for inclusion in 2011. The article is © David Garratt 2011.

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